Washington State Spending, Taxes – ‘Katy Bar the Door’


Updated March 7, 2010

Watch out. A desperate situation is at hand. The 19th century phrase, “Kay Bar the Door,” is applicable to the 2010 Washington legislative session. The Legislature is creating tax bills and is spending at a dizzying pace.

You mean it isn’t helping to create a strong, state economy and environment for job-creation while facing a $2.8 billion shortfall? No efficiencies anywhere? What about the reports of mismanagement, poor results revealed in performance audits, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in state-employee bonuses?

Well, let’s consider:

  • At least one formal hearing has been scheduled sans a 24-hour notice.
  • Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma, introduced an income tax bill, SB 6250.
  • A ghost tax bill was introduced (that’s right, no text – it was blank).
  • The Senate wants to raise $918 million with a sales tax increase of three-tenths of a cent to 6.8 percent.
  • Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s income-tax proposal on the fall ballot and would reduce the proposed new sales tax by one cent. It would put an income tax of 4.5 percent on many job-creators – individuals earning $200,000; heads of households making $300,000; married couples would face a new tax if they earn $400,000.
  • Imposing a sales tax on out-of-state businesses and consumers who buy Washington products.
  • Imposing a surcharge on auto insurance.
  • Hitting out-of-state financial institutions with a business and occupation (B&O) tax.

But that’s not all – not by a long shot.

Of course, you know Gov. Gregoire signed into law the bill that “temporarily” repealed The Taxpayer Protection Act, Initiative 960. That’s a clear rejection of voters’ wishes. Three times voters have formally stated their wish for tax protections. But again, the Legislature does not have to pass tax bills by a two-thirds margin. It also removes transparency for voters about taxes they’re forced to pay.

Personally, I don’t mind taxing out-of-state credit card companies with a history predatory interest rates and fees for bogus reasons. They’re domiciled in states permitting predatory behavior that was not retroactively rectified in a credit-card protection bill passed by Congress. The predatory practices are a major reason small businesses have poor credit.

However, it appears an income tax that only hits the wealthy is unconstitutional. It would require approval by voters and a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate. But a Seattle Times report indicates Senate Democratic leaders are hoping to bypass the required two-thirds vote in the Legislature because they know they can’t overcome the Republican opposition. If they’re successful in another end-run around legal checks-and-balances, of course, lawyers will get involved.

The Democrats’ idea is patterned after a 2010 voter-approved measure in Oregon, which hiked income taxes on individuals earning $125,000, households making $250,000, and on businesses.

However, unlike Washington, Oregon does not have a sales tax.

Lawmakers lax on major revenue source

Considering Washington relies heavily on sales taxes from vehicles, the Legislature is incredibly uninformed.

For example, a sales tax on Oregon and Alaska businesses and consumers will discourage commerce in Washington and threaten the livelihood of the state’s businesses and will worsen the state’s already-weak jobs situation.

Secondly, when buyers stop shopping in Washington, state businesses will pay reduced B&O taxes to the state.

A new tax will especially impact the sale of big-ticket items. Ask any Washington commercial-truck dealer if they have out-of-state customers. Their answer will be yes.

They’re already concerned their sales are down. What’s worse, relatively few have the cash flow to advertise now – ask any media advertising salesperson. During good times, the auto sector is the No.1 advertiser on radio and television. Even Honda dealers have had to lay off employees. (Disclosure: I’m very familiar with the auto sector. My firm formerly had auto dealer clients who advertised on radio and television. A regional truck dealer has an ad on this site.)

Out-of-state businesses come to Washington to buy fleets of trucks because the quantity and selection is superior. Privately, one dealer confides that some buyers travel 3,000 miles to Washington to buy commercial trucks. So they patiently wait for the economy to improve.

However, it’s also well-known that Washington state car buyers journey to Idaho for savings and to avoid paying high sales taxes by buying from Dave Smith Motors – a high-volume car dealer who advertises heavily in an in-your-face style on Seattle radio stations.

The dealer’s slogan: “Serving the Pacific Northwest and Beyond Since 1965,” and on its Web site it boldly states: “We cannot sell any NEW vehicle for Export or Resale.” The hint being that Washington car dealers could get a better deal in Idaho, too.

In fact, the dealer is the world’s largest Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep dealer, and is a leader in sales of General Motors cars and trucks.

The sales tax for the metropolitan King and Pierce counties is 9.6 percent.  Idaho only charges a 6 percent sales tax, which is shared with cities’ coffers, and the state affords a lower cost of doing business.

Bad planning

Moreover, the budget ramifications for Washington state:

  • No B&O taxes are collected
  • Reduced sales taxes because after making a purchase, motorists drive over the state line to Washington where they can register their vehicles in less-populated counties to save 1 to 3 percent on their vehicle’s sales tax.

The Legislature is behaving unproductively in another matter. Adversely affecting dealers and consumers, alike, the Senate wants to halt another major car-buying incentive – the long-time tax deduction for used-car trade-ins. In other words, the Senate wants to tax motorists at both ends – when buying and when selling a vehicle.

Incredibly, lawmakers insist on staying in the liquor business – is liquor a core state service? The state employs 1500 liquor employees and taxpayers are saddled with their costly pensions.

At best, the surcharge on car insurance is disingenuous. “Perhaps if the Legislature hadn’t raided the account the funds would be available for the use intended – preventing auto theft,” says Jason Mercier of Washington Policy Center.

FYI, if it weren’t for the tireless efforts of Mr. Mercier, much of the Legislature’s chicanery would not come to light. It’s a full-time job making sure there’s transparency. Many lawmakers are doing their best to make certain Washington does not have an open government.

The Legislature also wants to heavily tax candy – in the aggregate, a big state employer. Simply consider just one heritage state company, Brown and Haley, an employer of 250 workers but is in the midst of financial woes even without a burdensome sales tax.

Other sin taxes include a 500 percent increase on cigars, but gives favored documented treatment to Tribal smoke shops.

Let’s not forget the stifling new tax on bottled water.

Some lawmakers want to double the death tax.

And others want to triple the tax on gasoline and diesel as hazardous or toxic but they won’t use the revenue for badly needed road repairs or construction. Meantime, Washingtonians will undoubtedly pay even more for fuel.

Meantime, nothing has been done about the state’s bloated payroll and associated costs. Ask any employer if they are able to pay 88 percent of health insurance, or if their retirement plans can compete with the state pension system. The answer will be no. Don’t forget the Legislature is tardy in plans to fund $7.9 billion in retiree health benefits.

That sums up the debacle pretty well – continued spending, boundless chicanery in violating transparency standards, unsatisfactory performance audits, mismanagement and stifling taxes. Nothing has been accomplished that will strengthen the state’s economy or create jobs. In fact, it can be easily concluded that the 2010 legislative session has resulted in a sharp decline of voters’ economic and political freedoms.

From the Coach’s Corner, to stay informed, here are other sites you’ll find helpful:

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.